Agencies finalize diversity plans

Friday - 2/10/2012, 7:27am EST

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

Download mp3

Most agencies are on track to implement new diversity strategies by March 16, Office of Personnel Management Director of Diversity and Inclusion Veronica Villalobos told Federal News Radio.

"People are excited. We're seeing good coordination and collaboration between the different offices," she said. Five months ago, President Barack Obama directed agencies to improve the diversity of their ranks through strategic plans.

Minorities make up a third of the federal workforce overall, but less than 20 percent of government's senior executives. People with disabilities and Latinos, at 8 percent, are the most underrepresented ethnic group, Villalobos said. The government also is making a special push to get agencies to hire more people with disabilities.

Veronica Villalobos, director, Offiice of Diversity and Inclusion (OPM)

Minorities make up a third of the federal workforce overall, although that percentage dwindles at the higher grades. Latinos, at master framework for agencies to tailor to their own circumstances.

That document called for agencies to recruit from a diverse pool of applicants, encourage retention of all employees and implement accountability and sustainability measures.

OPM plans to review the agencies' plans with senior officials and subject-matter experts, Villalobos said. But, by and large, they should be ready to go.

"What we're telling agencies is on March 16 be ready to implement. They've already gotten a lot of training and a road map," she said

New strategies

OPM has conducted seminars for feds who work in human resources, equal employment opportunity and diversity. Bringing those three groups of professionals together will, Villalobos hopes, prevent a "silo mentality."

"What we're asking agencies to do is take a fully integrated approach, work together, share knowledge and innovation between the three offices," she said.

Agencies are most concerned about getting "buy in" and marketing their plans, she said.

"We try to give agencies concrete actions that they can engage in to help them create a workforce that works for everyone," she said.

That may include new strategies for helping employees develop career plans, using telework and other flexible-work policies, or encouraging employee engagement and affinity groups.

"We're asking agencies to do things like create diversity and inclusion councils," to increase the chances that their plans will last beyond the Obama administration, she said.

With hiring freezes and lawmakers threatening to cut federal benefits, however, the plans may not focus on recruitment.

Inclusive workplace

Agencies that are not hiring should "create that inclusive workplace, develop your talent, figure out how you're going to be able to retain people at your agency and utilize the flexibilities that exist," Villalobos said.

Recent reports of discrimination among air marshals in the Department of Homeland Security have underscored the need for such strategies.

The inspector general found Federal Air Marshal Service employees' perceptions of discrimination and retaliation were so extensive that they could not be dismissed, even though he could find no widespread discrimination within the division.

"This is definitely an area for EEO to work on, but bringing in the diversity and inclusion principles really can be helpful to create that workplace of dignity and respect," Villalobos said.

"The one thing we tell everyone is that it's about common sense," she said.

Not all agencies will finish their diversity strategies by the March 16 deadline.

But, "the few who have requested extensions have said, 'We can do this and we're excited about it,'" she said.

RELATED STORIES:

White House orders increase in diversity hiring

Low number of Latinos gives urgency to diversity initiative

New strategy gives agencies a "springboard" for increasing diversity

Federal Air Marshals claim unfair work environment